The serenity and beauty of Humla belies the hard life of Nepal's most-remote district which has been made even more harsh by the insurgency.
A mule train arrives from the Chinese border carrying food items, two traders stop by to chat. The 62 km Simikot-Hilsa road would make things easier, but construction has stopped because of Maoist threats. Pilgrims travel along the trail to holy Mt Kailash and Mansarobar in Tibet, paying a Maoist tax of $100 for each foreigner and Rs 300 for Indians. Nepalis have to pay Rs 200, and even porters are taxed. Even then more than 800 pilgrims have taken the route this year, from only 107 last year.
Many Humlis have been either forced out of their villages, or have fled after the rebels started a drive to recruit one person from every household. "It's been six months since I left my family in the village, who knows, it might be another six years since I see them again," says a villager who has been married just one year. He is waiting in Simikot to take a helicopter out. This is the only way to get in and out of Humla now, since the Maoists don't permit travellers to walk the trails to the south.
But the Humlis have fierce pride, a can-do attitude that comes from the daily struggle to survive in this harsh land. Despite the hardships, they are quick to smile and villagers still easily overcome fear of strangers to show visitors around.
"It is not charity we Humlis want," says former DDC chairman, Jivan Bahadur Shahi. "We want education and jobs so we can take care of ourselves. And most of all we want peace." (Sujala Panta in Humla)